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Substance and alcohol misuse policy: The correct approach


Substance abuse

Barrister Charles Price says adopting a policy for substance and alcohol misuse in consultation with staff, which assists them rather than dismisses them immediately, is the best approach to take. He also provides an example of such a policy.

Many employers make the mistake of seeing all drug and alcohol issues as disciplinary matters without first attempting to tackle the problem compassionately.

Many will throw a disciplinary code more suited to theft at the suffering employee rather than attempt to assist them. This is not to say that disciplinary sanctions are to be universally dismissed for misconduct relating to substance and alcohol misuse, but these instances must be spelt out concisely in your policies.

Drug and other substances (e.g. solvent) misuse is everyone’s concern. In the context of work, not only does it damage the misuser’s health, but it can cost employers through absenteeism and reduced productivity. It may also increase the risk of accidents.

Employers should adopt a substance misuse policy in consultation with their staff. If an employee admits to being a drug user, your policy should seek to help them rather than lead simply to dismissing them. Although it should be stated that possession of illegal drugs in the workplace will warrant a disciplinary sanction.

While, for many people, drinking alcohol is a positive part of life and does not cause any problems, the misuse of alcohol can lead to reduced productivity, taking time off work, and accidents at work. Employers should adopt an alcohol policy in consultation with their staff too. This should include matters such as:

  • How the organisation expects employees to limit their drinking.

  • How problem drinking will be recognised and help offered.

  • At what point and in what circumstances you will treat an employee’s drinking as a matter for discipline rather than as a health problem.

Example of a policy

If a member of staff is suspected of having a problem that is drug or alcohol related, the following approach should be taken and confidentiality must be assured at all times:

  • Find a suitable time and place to meet with the individual. This may be a specially organised meeting or perhaps part of a sickness review meeting. This may also be an impromptu meeting if it is suspected that an individual is under the influence and could potentially harm themselves, patients or colleagues, or the member of staff is acting in an inappropriate way. Any member of staff who appears to be under the influence of drugs/alcohol should be temporarily relieved of their work duties and put on special leave, whilst the situation is investigated.

  • The individual should be asked if they are experiencing any difficulties at work and given the opportunity to state how they are feeling.

  • If there is a strong suspicion of alcohol or drug misuse the member of staff should be asked if they have a problem, but not accused.

  • If it is determined that there is a misuse problem, the individual should be referred to [Company Name] designated Occupational Health department, ensuring confidentiality of information at all times. Occupational Health will discuss the problem with the individual and refer them to the appropriate agencies for further support.

  • Depending on the severity of the problem it may be appropriate to put the individual concerned on special leave or sick leave until help can be sought. The Occupational Health department will advise whether this is appropriate. Recent case law has shown that alcoholism is not to be treated as a disability.

  • If an individual denies they have a problem, they may still be referred to Occupational Health, ensuring confidentiality of information at all times. If a member of staff’s work performance is affected and they do not admit to having a problem then the disciplinary or capability procedure should be followed.

  • Regular reviews should occur between the manager and the member of staff, with Occupational Health support. The HR manager may be present at the review meeting and the member of staff may wish to bring a friend or trade union representative. The individual should be supported whilst receiving help and on return to work.

  • If an individual admits they have a problem, seeks help and then relapses, the above procedure should be put into action again. The number of times this happens will be dependent on the situation.

Alcohol and drugs may become a disciplinary problem when a member of staff:

  • Endangers life

  • Adversely affects well being of others

  • Damages property

  • Causes distress/disquiet to staff/visitors

  • Interferes with the working of[Company Name] practices

  • Refuses to co-operate

Disciplinary action may be taken:

  • If an individual refuses to admit they have a problem and/or refuses to seek help and their performance or conduct at work is deemed unacceptable by the organisation, normal disciplinary action may be taken.

  • If a member of staff is found to be dealing or in possession of drugs on the premises that are not for medicinal purposes or any action which breaches drug related legislation will be regarded as a disciplinary matter The police will also be notified.

  • If an individual reports for work clearly under the influence of alcohol or drugs and is not deemed to have a long-term misuse problem.

  • If gross misconduct is committed i.e. theft of company property.

Disciplinary action taken could result in dismissal.

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One Response

  1. Drug Policy
    This article covers the issue very well for larger organisations………but what about the small employer who as I understand makes up something like 75% of the workforce, who does not have an Occ Health Nurse; or HR department; or any of the other specialists at the disposable of the corporates? I would be most interested to hear from anyone who is either part of a smaller organisation [employing 50 people or less], or who provides advice and guidance to these folk. Cheers.

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